Rainbow-colored balloons and a “Love is…” white board greeted visitors to a downtown Decatur event promoting understanding and acceptance.

“I want this space to be a safe place people can come to and feel welcome and happy, no matter their religion, their race, their gender or their sexuality,” Lynsey Skaggs said.

For Pride Month, held in June to recognize and raise awareness of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer community, Second Avenue’s Urban Atlas, owned by the 22-year-old Skaggs, hosted an LGBT lemonade social.

“LGBTQ rights have always been very important to me. Having this store offers me an opportunity to make a change. If I don’t use the store for change, I feel like I’m holding a megaphone and not speaking out,” Skaggs said.

The event, which raised funds for the Human Rights Campaign and the Happy Hippie Foundation, attracted people, both straight and on the LGBTQ spectrum. Attendees ranged in age from teenagers to senior citizens.

“I am 40 years old with 31 years of experience,” K.J., a 71-year-old transgender woman who preferred to go by her initials, said with a smile. “I am the ‘T’ in LGBT. I knew I was different as a young child, but I never understood who I really was until I was an adult and someone loved me for me. I am who I am.”

The event featured an exhibit with art by LGBT artists, a “Love is…” board, “Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover” books, refreshments and a letters to LGBT youth wall. Among the encouraging notes, people wrote, “You are important to the world,” “You are made for a reason” and “Only you can define yourself.”

“The community is, in many respects, your chosen family. To find acceptance in your community is something everyone wants,” K.J. said.

Among the few attendees who identified as straight was Cookie Stoner, an LGBTQ rights supporter and advocate.

“This is a family-friendly event. People in town need to come out and support the gay community. Being here will not make you gay. It’s not contagious,” Stoner said. “From a religious standpoint, this is what true love and acceptance looks like. People in the LGBTQ community need to know they have a safe place where they can be who they are and will be accepted.”

Along with Urban Atlas, AMF River City Lanes in Decatur held a Pride Night fundraiser with proceeds benefiting the Trevor Project, and Golden Ape CrossFit hosted a workout with donations going to The Out Foundation.

Both Urban Atlas and Golden Ape CrossFit referenced Nigel Shelby, the 15-year-old Huntsville High student whose family said he committed suicide in April after being the target of homophobic bullying.

“We aren’t where we need to be, but change is happening slowly. To me, this is not an LGBT helps LGBT type thing, it’s a human helps human type thing,” Skaggs said.

cgodbey@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2441. Twitter @DecaturLiving.

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